Chapter 21 – The Game of Tag

Ehlo, Johnny, and Wallace woke up on Monday morning to find Jacky in the kitchen, all ready and munching on something. Yes, it seemed like things were back to normal again.

Apparently, they didn’t just keep it from the others that Jacky was back again just for a night, but for one more day and night. They spent the whole day on Sunday doing major cleaning instead of hanging out with the others so the others couldn’t detect either. Of course, their little match had been postponed–yet again. Another week wouldn’t kill since it was just a game after all. And also to Johnny’s relief, Ehlo and Wallace didn’t talk about ‘The Mystical Forest’ or mentioned Xiao Ling Ling again the whole day yesterday. Maybe it was because Jacky was back so they were more curious about his journey and other possible future plans. Jacky was back to save the day like always, Johnny thought–a little too dramatically. Or maybe he had it with Ehlo and Wallace’s debates that he was just looking for any explanation to end that particular ongoing conversation.

As Ehlo stepped in to join Jacky at the counter, the other two opened the fridge to find some food. They managed to send Wallace out for grocery shopping while they were finishing up with cleaning yesterday afternoon.

“So much for buddies,” Ehlo said, sitting down. “You didn’t wait for us.”

Jacky shrugged his shoulders. “Can’t. Need to get started early. I was gone for a while, okay? Have to report to the station and explain.”

Johnny sat down next to Ehlo. “Don’t worry. They won’t fire you. They were going bananas when you were gone.”

“Still…”

“You want us to go with you and explain?” Wallace asked.

“Are you kidding me?” He had on his amused look.

Ehlo looked at Wallace. “Over-killed, buddy. Zhu Fan Gang doesn’t need anyone to defend him. He’s invincible.”

“If you’re trying to scare him, it’s not working. Stop exaggerating already. From now on, no more horsing around in front of the others, okay?”

Ehlo turned back to Jacky. “What are you talking about?”

“To avoid from being misunderstood in the future, let’s just drop all the side talks and codes in front of the others. And stop saying how madly in love I am with Sonia. It’s not funny anymore. I’ll knock if off with teasing you and Qiao too if it helps.”

“How boring.”

Jacky shrugged his shoulders. “It’s for the best. At least, I want you guys to do me a favor and not make me look suspicious anymore. You can do whatever you want with your matters.”

Johnny nodded. “It’s a good idea.”

“Thanks.”

“So…” Wallace began.

The others turned to him.

“Nothing.”

“What?” Ehlo said, slightly irritated. “No more secrets, remember?”

“No. I was just wondering how it is going to be with you…” He turned to look at Jacky. “…and Sonia now.”

“We’ll see,” Jacky said. “I guess just keep a distance from her and stop messing with her unless we have to interact because of work. I can’t afford to go through another misunderstanding anymore. And it’s not because I’m scared. I’m just tired of all these useless assumptions.”

Ehlo nodded. “Sounds good. Staying out of trouble.”

Jacky got up at that time and went to the living room. He turned back to the others after retrieving his cell phone from the coffee table. “I’ll see you guys later.”

“Okay,” The others managed to mutter out.

“He’s back,” Wallace mumbled after Jacky’s gone.

“What are you talking about?” Ehlo asked, confused.

“No. It seems like he’s going back to his past self. Don’t you guys see?”

“No fun!” Ehlo looks alarmed. “That means he’s going to look morbid and unhappy all over again?”

“Not unhappy,” Johnny corrected him. “Just more calm.”

“Still adds to boring. Great. So much for coming out in the open again.” Ehlo left the kitchen after that–possibly heading back to his room.

Wallace turned to look at Johnny.

“Don’t ask me,” Johnny said, trying to edge out of the situation. “You know how Ehlo is.”

“I don’t know if this all for the good or we’re just walking into another obstacle.” He got up and went to his room also.

So much for things being back to normal again.

*****

Jacky stepped out of Producer Lin’s office, feeling relief since he managed to get past that one. Luckily, he never pulled anything like that in the past before or it would be his last straw by now. He made his way out of the station, heading toward his car. He had only one mission now–finding some inspirations for tomorrow’s show.

*****

As Sonia was in a meeting with Angela, Sam, and several other co-workers, she heard the conference room’s door being opened. She looked up from her paper to see Producer Lin walking in.

“Change of plans, everyone,” Producer Lin announced. “Jacky’s back. He’s going on air again tomorrow morning.”

Angela and Sam turned to look at Sonia.

“Jacky’s back?” Sonia repeated, still looking at Producer Lin.

“I’m not lying,” Producer said in a serious tone. “He was just in my office. He left already to prepare for tomorrow’s show. Sonia, you will have to switch back to your regular time and Sam….” He turned to look at Sam. “…you’re back at night with Angela. We’ll change it like that for tomorrow. I’ll come up with a better schedule by tomorrow night, all right?”

Everyone in the room nodded.

“All right. Let’s get this going, everyone.” He left after giving them an encouraging smile.

Angela turned to Sonia. “You want to stop the meeting and catch up with him…”

Sonia scanned the room briefly with her eyes before answering. “No. We should take care of the situation at hand first.”

They went back to their meeting after that. But this time, they had to improvise with the new information Producer Lin just gave them.

Although Sonia was actively talking to the others, but Angela could see that Sonia was quite disturbed or at least she was quite anxious. After another half an hour, they were finally finished with their meeting. Everyone piled out of the room readily and went back to their offices and/or work areas. Angela and Sam were the only ones remaining in the room with Sonia.

“Do you want to…” Angela asked.

Sonia turned to Angela. “I’m fine. I need to take care of some paperwork first.”

“Are you sure? I can…”

Sonia shook her heads. “We’re not doing that good this past week. I should get this in first before anything else goes wrong.”

“All right. I’m heading out to search for materials for tomorrow’s segment then.”

Sonia smiled at her one last time before Angela headed to the door.

Angela turned around again. “Coming, Sam?”

“Uh…I’ll just go later,” Sam said. “We’ll meet back here after lunch?”

“Sure.” She left for real this time.

Sonia got up from her seat after having collecting her papers already.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go see him now?” Sam asked.

“I can go later,” Sonia said.

She exited the room, leaving Sam there thinking to himself.

*****

Angela bumped into Ray at the entrance of the station.

“You see Jacky anywhere?” Angela asked, trying to maintain her calmness.

“Yeah,” Ray answered. “He left about fifteen minutes back already. Why?”

“Nothing. Uh…did he say where he was going?”

Ray shook his head. “No. Only that he has a mission to carry out aka searching for material for his returning segment of course.”

Angela nodded. “Okay. Thanks. I’m heading out also.”

Ray waved a goodbye her way and headed inside again.

Angela walked out toward the street and tried to haul a Taxi. She had to wait five minutes before one came her way. She guessed she just had to go on her “mission” first before searching for Jacky again.

****

Jacky parked across the streets like he always did before making his way toward Orchids Agency. He stopped briefly at the door, looking through the glass window and observing the scene inside. They were at their desks, working away like always. Nothing had changed since he left. Or so he thought. He finally grabbed hold of the handle and opened the door.

As soon as they heard the door being opened, everyone looked up. Qiao Qiao’s expression turned from tiresome to excitement. She jumped up from her seat and ran to Jacky.

“Jacky ge!” Qiao Qiao exclaimed.

Jacky couldn’t help but smiled at her cheerful gestures. Before he could say anything, Qiao Qiao pulled him into a hug.

Jacky hugged her back lightly. “I missed you too.”

The others were getting up from their seats now–excluding Simon. They waited patiently for Qiao Qiao to let go of Jacky and step back to stand among them as well before anyone spoke up.

“So…how have you all been?” Jacky asked casually.

“It’s been dreadful seeing someone yawn and sigh all the time,” Chen Yi admitted.

Qiao Qiao turned to Chen Yi. “Hey!”

Chen Yi smiled. “Just kidding.”

“I guess everyone’s still the same.”

Qiao Qiao turned back to Jacky. “Of course!”

Jacky finally realized the strange thing that he couldn’t figured out before. “And…why are you wearing skirts? Getting ready for some party again?”

“Uh…” She had on this nervous look that it seemed impossible on her face.

“No need to explain, we know you need to impress someone.” He looked toward Chen Yi. “You two…”

Before Jacky could finish, Qiao Qiao pulled Jacky aside to a corner of the room.

“What’s going on here?” He asked.

“Stop trying to match-make me with Chen Yi or I’ll beat you up–you and Wallace,” She blurted out in one breath.

“What?!” It was his turn to display a puzzled expression that shouldn’t be present on his face.

“I don’t want to ruin things for Chen Yi or let rumors fly around anymore. It’s getting out of control, can’t you see it? So could you at least help me out by not making things worse?”

Jacky studied Qiao Qiao intently. “So that means…Ehlo won?”

Although he promised Ehlo earlier to not tease them anymore, but he missed some stuffs while he was gone. He had to know for sure about this. Besides, no one was listening in right now.

She wrinkled her face. “Ehlo? What are you talking about?”

“Then…”

“Stop being nosy.”

“I’m trying to straighten things out here.”

“I’ll tell you later then. Just help me with this one, will you?”

“All right. I guess I shouldn’t tease you and the other guys either, huh?”

Qiao Qiao nodded.

“Okay then.”

They made their way back to the others again.

“Are we done now?” Wallace asked. “I thought no more secrets.”

Qiao Qiao turned to Wallace. “It’s personal!”

Wallace put his hands up to shield himself. “All right. I wouldn’t want to interfere.”

Qiao Qiao turned back to Jacky, gesturing her hand. “So…what have you been up to since…”

“I’m just visiting a bit today, then I need to head out to search around for material for tomorrow’s show. We can get together later and I’ll fill you all in on it, deal?”

Qiao Qiao looked somewhat reluctant but nodded her head in agreement.

Jacky stayed with them for a while to talk randomly and catch up with what was going on with them while he was gone before heading back out again–to search for his inspirations.

*****

Angela was finally done with her research around lunch time and felt somewhat satisfied with what she found out so far. Hopefully, Sam had something impressive also so they could combine notes and come up with something good for the show.

She decided that she should resume her search for Jacky again. Besides, she didn’t have to meet with Sam until after lunch. First stop? Her best shot should be Orchids Agency. After all, Jacky spent half of his time there anyway. At least, he did that a lot recently–before his disappearance. It was worth a try.

*****

Sonia completed the last bit of the paperwork after two hours. She got up from her desk and stretched a bit before straightening up her workspace. She looked at her watch briefly to see that it was lunchtime already. Perfect timing, she thought. She grabbed her handbag before heading for the door. She locked her office and headed toward the entrance of the station. Lucky for her, someone got off at the station so she got into that Taxi. She gave the driver the location before sitting back. She wondered if the others would know where Jacky was. She fished out her cell phone and dialed Wallace’s number. Who better to ask than his roommate, right?

“Hello?” Wallace answered.

“It’s Sonia,” Sonia said.

“I know.”

“Uh…do you happen to know where Jacky is?”

“Not really. But he just left about half an hour or so. Why? What happened?”

“No. Just want to talk to him about something.”

“Oh. Okay. About the radio station? Or…”

“Half and half.”

“Oh. Okay. He’s  getting quite popular–as he always is.”

“Joking around again?”

“No. I meant Angela was here earlier looking for him too.”

“She was?”

“Yeah. And we told her the same thing, no clue where he’s heading. He just said something about searching for inspirations for tomorrow’s show.”

“Oh. Okay. Thanks anyway.”

“All right. Good luck looking for him. And…you might want to call him first though.”

“It’s all right. I’ll manage. Thanks, Wallace.”

“All right. I’m getting back to work now.”

“Okay, bye.”

Sonia hung up after that, trying to figure out where he could possibly be. She wandered around town endlessly, causing the Taxi driver to get impatient. Something finally snapped into her mind along the way. She told the driver to turn back. She got off five minutes later, walking around. She was not sure he would be there, but he did mention of this place in the past as one of his favorite hideouts. Whether he was joking or not, it was her chance to find out now. She smiled as she could see a familiar car parked up ahead next to a tree.

*****

As Jacky stood there–enjoying the sun and breeze, he heard someone calling his name. He turned around to see Angela walking toward him.

“Nice day, huh?” Jacky said with a casual smile. “Going out for a walk?”

“Actually,” Angela began with an equally sincere smile to match her tone. “I’m here to apologize for my wrongdoing. You know, stubbornness mixed in with paranoia.”

Jacky smiled. “No need. What are you talking about? I thought it’s all sorted out. Ehlo and Johnny filled me in with what happened.”

“Still…I want to say it to you personally. After all, I had the nerve to go around and conspire against you. At least, have the courage to face the consequences, right?” She smiled. “Yes, Ehlo’s words.”

Jacky shook his head. “You guys are too strange.”

“Oh come on now, what do you expect?” Angela said with a mischievous expression on her face. “I can’t just make up a speech out of nowhere. I have to go by something, right?”

Jacky smiled. “All right. If you say so, Miss Chang.”

Angela gestured her hand toward him. “So…we’re good?”

Jacky nodded. “Of course.”

Angela smiled. “That’s good then.” She still had this hesitant look on. “Are you sure? ‘Cause if you want to…”

“We’re friends, right? And I admit that I’m annoying too. So, peace?” He extended his hand out to her.

Angela shook his hand. “No more secrets from now on, okay?”

“I can’t promise on that, but I promise I won’t be sneaky anymore.”

She smiled. “All right then. I’m leaving now. Enjoy the breeze.”

“All right. See you.”

Jacky watched as she disappeared around the bend before turning back toward the sea ahead.

*****

Angela walked away, feeling much more relief than before. She knew she couldn’t change anything or pull the distance between them any closer, but she knew she had the courage to apologize for her wrongdoing. Bianca would be proud. As she was thinking and smiling to herself, she spotted Sonia walking toward her.

“Hey!” Angela called out.

“Hey, what are you doing here?” Sonia asked, a bit taken aback.

Angela smiled. “Just talked to Jacky. He’s fine now. Are you looking for him too?”

Sonia nodded. “I want to apologize to him officially.”

“I just did.”

Sonia smiled also. “Really? So you guys aren’t at odds anymore?”

“I guess I’m too paranoid for my own good after all.”

Sonia took a quick look behind Angela. “Is he still around?”

“He should be.” She put a hand on Sonia’s shoulder. “Good luck.”

Sonia smiled and they parted ways after that.

Sonia began to make her way toward the sea area, wondering if she was too late since he could have left by the other side. She walked past the sandy area and toward the shed nearby, beating herself up for not asking Angela more specifically about his whereabouts earlier. She continued to make her way around the area, looking in every direction and shielding her eyes from the bright sun.

She finally found Jacky standing next to the seaside looking out toward the water ahead–just like Angela said he would be. He had a peaceful expression on his face. She was relief to know that he looked somewhat normal again. She took in a deep breath and stepped toward him.

“Jacky…” She called out nervously.

Jacky finally turned around to face her. He smiled at her. “What brought you here today, Miss Sui?”

“I heard the others say that you’re back.”

“It appeared to be so,” He teased.

Sonia smiled. “I want to talk to you about something.”

Jacky gestured toward her with his sunglasses. “What’s going on? Asking for compensation?”

Sonia wrinkled her face. “What?!”

Jacky smiled. “Your transportation fee and other expenses for going through all the trouble of finding me.”

“Oh. No.”

“What’s wrong? You’re not advancing forward to hit my shoulder anymore? I’m not used to this quiet treatment.”

Sonia cleared her throat. “Actually, I want to apologize for…”

Jacky raised his hand up to stop her. “Don’t say anymore. We were all blamed, remember? If I haven’t acted so suspicious half of the time, things wouldn’t turn out that way.”

“No. That’s not it. Because you don’t want me to worry or get paranoid about the situation, right? So you hired the P.I. to check things out. That was why you had to keep it from us. You had to make sure before you would tell, right? It’s our fault we didn’t trust you enough.”

Jacky took a step forward toward Sonia, but stopped himself. He nodded. “Yes. I saw the strange white substance on the key and thought it was too strange. I heard about people making a duplicate of the key by pasting it on some sort of clay or whatever and then taking it to a shop to get it done. But I wasn’t sure and it was too bizarre to jump to such conclusions just because of the little white substance. I need proofs. So I kept the key. I didn’t realize it would lead to such suspicions. I didn’t hire the P.I. until I verified with the locksmith and some others about what the substance was. I heard about the police investigating the shop so I became more suspicious of them. I thought after we figure it out, it would be better to explain since there wasn’t much to go on at first. Just bits and pieces here and there. Besides, we weren’t sure if those people took your car, so the police wouldn’t go to the extreme of telling you those confidential stuffs unless you’re directly involved.”

“We know now.”

Jacky nodded again, smiling. “Of course.”

“But I still want…”

Jacky put his hand up to stop her again. “It’s not necessary. What has passed already passed.”

“Even if you don’t want to hear anymore of the apology, how about a ‘thank you’?”

Jacky smiled. “Don’t mention it. We’re co-workers after all. And not to mention archenemies.”

Sonia looked somewhat disappointed. “That’s it?”

“What else do you want it to be?” He looked at his watch briefly. “I better head back and write up stuffs for my returning segment. See you around?”

He walked away after that, leaving Sonia standing there. She turned around to look at him one last time as he was walking farther and farther away from her. A lump began to form in her throat. Just as she was about to follow him, he turned around abruptly. He took his sunglasses off to face her again. She smiled at him, feeling hopeful. She could see him reaching into his pants pocket with his right hand. After a bit of fidgeting around, he finally found it. He handed the item to her. She extended her hand out to receive it. When he removed his hand from hers, she could see it was a hairclip. Confused, she looked up at him for an explanation.

“I forgot to give it back to you at the party after we left that night. I left it on my night stand but kept forgetting to take it with me so I could return it to you. Finally…” He gestured toward the hairclip in her hand. “…it’s back to its owner. Good day.”

He turned around again to continue on his way. She looked after him silently, feeling a hollowness creeping up from within. She swallowed back the bitterness in her and blinked several times, trying to stop her tears from forming as she watched him disappear from view.

As Jacky was making his way back to town, he couldn’t help but feel a bit of emptiness coming from within–his eyes full of sadness. Then he sighed out, putting on a smile. He reminded himself that he already promised the “three angels” that he will be happy no matter what happens in the future. After all, he couldn’t control everything going on around him. He could only do his best and hope for it to pull through in the end.

© Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Posted: Tuesday, February 8th, 2010

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